Israeli during thr Yom Kippur war in the Sinai Peninsula

The 1973 Yom Kippur War, beginning 50 years ago this week, helped Israel solidify its position as the United States’ reliable force in the Middle East.

Six years earlier, in a decisive move, Israel defeated its Arab neighbours in a war and demonstrated that it could be a watchdog for Western imperialism.

After the 1967 Six-Day War Israel grew four times in size by taking what it didn’t grab in 1948. 

This included Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Syria’s Golan Heights, and the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem—soldifying the brutal occupation of Palestinians still in force today.

By 1973 both Egypt and Syria had new leaders, Anwar El-Sadat in Egypt and Hafez al-Assad in Syria. They had to prove to their populations that they were ready to support the Palestinians and avenge the 1967 defeat.

The regimes also came under pressure from the armed struggle launched by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation that ramped up actions against Israeli occupation from the 1970s.

Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has relied on military and economic support from Western imperialists, particularly the US, to survive. 

During the 1960s, US military loans to Israel averaged £17 million a year. Between 1970 and 1974, that rose to £345 million.

Israel’s new role was further cemented after it defeated Syria and Egypt again in 1973. Israel refused to give back the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights. In retaliation both countries launched coordinated attacks on Israel, as most of Israel’s military was observing the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur.

Israel’s prime minister, Golda Meir turned to the US for aid.  President Richard Nixon was slow to send military help, as the US had been attempting to improve relations with Egypt.

But Nixon finally equipped Israel with emergency supply lines after the Soviet Union sent support to Egypt and Syria.

That was also despite an Arab oil embargo on the US, Britain and other Israeli allies. By the end of 1974, the price of oil had risen by nearly 300 percent, sparking the first oil shock, which heightened the financial crash later that year.

The reinforcements helped Israel push back both Syrian and Egyptian troops. 

The war ended on 26 October with Egypt and Israel agreeing to a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations. Israel eventually handed back the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt but not the Golan Heights to Syria. 

And it refused to end its occupation of Palestine and ignored calls to return its stolen lands. The UN reiterated Security Council resolution 242 which requested that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories, noting their seizure was illegal under international law.

Israel refused then and refuses now. In 1973 large sections of the left in Britain backed Israel because they said it had been invaded. 

Socialist Worker rightly backed the anti-Israel attack.“Today the state of Israel rests on a racist foundation,” it wrote. 

“It is also a colonialist state. Israel is a major instrument of US policy in the Middle East, a reliable anti-revolutionary force.”

However the ruling classes of Syria and Egypt were no defenders of liberation. They didn’t launch into war to defend Palestinian liberation—their main aim was to bolster their own repressive rule. 

And Sadat later did deals with imperialism and Israel. Defeating Zionism would have taken more than the rulers of Arab regimes coming to the aid of the Palestinians. 

Only a rising of working class and poor people across the region could have defeated the Zionists and US imperialism.


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